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African American Democratic candidates, who lost narrowly in major competitive, statewide 2022 midterm races, repeated the mistakes of their Black predecessors (e.g., Harvey Gantt, for U.S. Senate in North Carolina 1990 and 1996 and Tom Bradley for California Governor in 1982, etc.), who were close to making history as the first Blacks elected to those offices in their respective states.

Negative Ads: In 1990, Gantt ran against incumbent Sen. Jesse Helms, a rabid right-wing Republican who used race as a bludgeon against his moderate White opponent when he entered elective politics in 1972 and purveyed it throughout his political career. He was anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-integration, anti-Black, anti-Aids prevention and medications, and against any policies or programs that had the faintest hint of progressivism. Helms ruled like a plantation master during his five terms in office.

He nurtured his right-wing base and pulled enough centrist voters to retain office. In 1984, he waited until the eleventh hour of his campaign to run an ad against his moderate Democratic opponent, Jim Hunt, a two-term Governor, who was term-limited, characterizing him as “gay.” He was not. But Hunt gave no response. Helms’ subsequent Democratic challengers all received the same vile treatment.

When Gantt ran against Helms six years later, he faced TV ads labeling him a rabid affirmative action proponent who would select unqualified Blacks over more qualified White candidates. At the time, the commercials ran, Gantt and Helms were running neck-and-neck. The charge worked as Gantt gave no counter. Gantt ran against Helms again in 1996 and suffered the same outcome. In both races, he garnered the overwhelming majority of Black votes.

Tom Bradley, the first Black mayor of Los Angeles encountered more subtle race-baiting in 1982 when he vied for the governorship of California against George Deukmejian. Race and Bradley’s resistance to new gun purchases sunk his candidacy. He did not adequately respond to either. In addition, he was negligent of his natural base of Black and Hispanic voters in Los Angeles which could have put him over the top. Their turnout was average.

Black Percentages and Turnout: In far too many instances, Black candidates confuse the percentage of Black votes they receive with turnout. An 85-90 percent share of the Black vote when there is only a 40 percent turnout is not really meaningful in a close election. There is often an assumption by both Black and liberal White candidates in polarizing elections that Blacks will turn out in large numbers because they have little choice. That view is what doomed Hillary Clinton’s run against Donald Trump in 2016.

She believed that sending Barack and Michelle Obama to battleground states (MI and WI), with sizeable African American populations to ask for their votes on her behalf, would ensure her victory. Hillary did not get the turnout, among minority voters, that Obama did, losing a race she should have won. She did not realize her approach was a political insult to an important Democratic electorate.

This has been a repeated miscalculation among Black politicians who are trying to be the first to break through for an elective office, particularly at the state and federal level. In addition, they tend to surround themselves with advisors and strategists, who have no cultural and political affinity with the African American community. The Black community is placed on the back burner until after the loss.

Then the Black community is criticized for not turning out and causing their “Brother” or “Sister” to lose! Both Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin would likely have won their U.S. Senate races had they decided to invest more dollars and effort in getting out the Black vote. Beasley lost her race for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina against a Republican right-wing zealot, by less than 500 votes in 2020, in large part, because she did not cultivate Black turnout.

Mandela Barnes suffered the same fate in Wisconsin when he largely abandoned his focus on Black and Hispanic voters in Wisconsin’s heavily minority counties that boosted him to become Wisconsin’s first African American Lt. Governor in 2018. Like Beasley, he placed his political future in the hands of consultants and tacticians who are alien to the internal and partisan dynamics of the Black community.

How It Should Be Done: Doug Wilder, in his 1989 successful run for Governor of Virginia, melded his focus on turning out the Black community with his appeal to Whites. He reached out to every corner of the state and identified an avid pro-choice constituency of suburban White women in the northern Virginia DC collar counties, combined with an extraordinary Black turnout, who provided him a significant enough combined vote that enabled him to win by a .001 vote margin.

Barack Obama employed similar tactics in his primary and general elections for President in 2008. He aggressively deployed campaign operatives to beauty shops, ethnic restaurants, and other minority outlets to increase minority and majority turnout - pouring millions of dollars into the efforts. Obama dispatched minority and majority staff who were socially and culturally connected to the communities in all states.

Wes Moore, the Governor-Elect of Maryland, also pursued a multi-racial election strategy to win resoundingly. (He was also aided by a Trump-endorsed election-denier whom the Republican term-limited incumbent Governor refused to support. Moore’s coattails dragged Cong. Anthony Brown across the finish to become the first Black Attorney General-elect. Brown was defeated in a Maryland gubernatorial run in 2014 after serving as Lt. Governor for eight years.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is headed for a runoff election next Tuesday, December 6th, with Trump-selected Herschel Walker, an African American Republican toady who would essentially be a puppet. Warnock is leading in the most recent poll, but his trump card is his uncompromising get-out-the vote effort with voters of color which he established with Stacey Abrams, a two-time Georgia Black gubernatorial candidate, when he won his runoff in 2020.

Warnock is on track for a major victory according to our on-the-ground canvassing in recent weeks which has been confirmed by the astonishing early voter turnout of Blacks and other minorities. He has done the work with his base while reaching out to the broader community. We look forward to his victory on Tuesday.

As the nation becomes more demographically diverse, becoming a pluralistic country before 2045, with no majority population group, Black and White Democrats must overhaul their approach to politics as the old strategies will no longer work. The Democratic Party leadership must adjust to this emerging reality.

Read Part I

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of theNational Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools,and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and asProfessor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell and BC.

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